Suffering and Transformative Experience

In David Bain, Michael Brady & Jennifer Corns (eds.), The Philosophy of Suffering: Metaphysics, Value, and Normativity. London: Routledge. pp. 165-179 (2020)
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In this chapter we suggest that many experiences of suffering can be further illuminated as forms of transformative experience, using the term coined by L.A. Paul. Such suffering experiences arise from the vulnerability, dependence, and affliction intrinsic to the human condition. Such features can create a variety of positively, negatively, and ambivalently valanced forms of epistemically and personally transformative experiences, as we detail here. We argue that the productive element of suffering experiences can be articulated as transformative, although suffering experiences are not the type mostly discussed in the transformative experience literature. We correct for this here by developing a taxonomy of negatively valenced transformative experiences. We suggest three features that make such experiences ones of suffering, following Michael Brady’s definition: intensity, novelty, and attentional focus. Finally, we suggest that one possible explanation for the edifying capacity of suffering comes from it requiring more transformation than positive experiences.

Author Profiles

Ian James Kidd
Nottingham University
Havi Carel
University of Bristol


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